Report: GOP gave Blackwell funds

To override limits, donors gave money meant for Blackwell to local parties.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Republican Kenneth Blackwell, in a short-lived campaign for state treasurer, received $294,175 in campaign contributions from bankers, brokers and others who do business with that office, a newspaper reported Sunday. More than half was funneled through county GOP parties.
Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state and now a candidate for governor, announced in 2001 that he would run for treasurer after the incumbent, fellow Republican Joe Deters, said he would seek another office.
Secretaries of state award few state contracts to private companies, compared with those issued by the treasurer's office.
Blackwell eventually bowed to the state party's wishes and ran for re-election as Ohio's chief elections officer instead, but not before raking in $124,175 in direct contributions to his campaign and $170,000 from county party accounts, The Plain Dealer reported in Sunday's editions.
Candidates used the county funds to circumvent contribution limits. Once donors gave the maximum allowed to candidates, they still could give at even higher levels to the county accounts, which then shipped the money to the candidates.
The county party finance reports made no direct connection between a specific donor to the county fund and what it gives a candidate.
However, on one December day in 2001, the Cuyahoga County GOP state candidate fund received $65,000 from banks, brokers, investment advisers and their families. Eleven days later, the county sent $65,000 to Blackwell's campaign, the newspaper said.
Blackwell's critics say his fund-raising history is in contrast to his position as secretary of state that contributions should be easily traceable and candidates should avoid efforts to circumvent donation limits.
"It's disappointing when someone who is a champion of disclosure and of following the campaign-finance rules violates at least the spirit of them," said Catherine Turcer, legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a campaign reform group.
Blackwell defended the practice as legal at the time, adding the county accounts were intended to help all state candidates. Although his campaign helped the county parties raise the money, the decision on how it was distributed was theirs, he said.
"Did my campaign go to the county parties and say, 'We would like to be the recipient of county party state candidate funds?' Well, of course we did," Blackwell said.
Mike Wise, executive chairman of the Cuyahoga County GOP in 2001, said some donors "were very well versed" in the rules governing the county accounts.
"They were willing to make sizable donations to them, and as long as there was an incumbent Republican officeholder, we were willing to help. We had an idea of who was interested in what races, but I'm almost positive there wasn't a formal 'OK, this comes in, then goes here,'" Wise said.
Similar patterns emerged in Mercer, Stark and Columbiana counties, the newspaper said.

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